Leading a team of sales professionals that knows what it should do and one that does what it knows are two very different things. What can you do to help your team reach its potential and consistently adopt desired selling behaviours?

Socrates may have had the answer when he said: “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” 

In my work with directors and sales managers, I have noticed that coaching results in more autonomous, proactive and high performing sales teams.

The International Coach Federation (www.icfsingapore.org) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”.

Here’s how you can apply the following coaching skills when working with sales professionals:

Establishing the coaching agreement. Help your team members feel comfortable about coaching. Explore their initial concerns and come to a common understanding of the agenda for each coaching session. Reach an agreement about what they want to work on, what issues need to be addressed and the measures of success.

Establishing trust and intimacy. Create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust. Let your team know that they are free to be themselves. Collaborate with them as equals to design a change agenda that is focused on them. 

Coaching presence. Create a spontaneous relationship with your team, and employ a open and flexible style. You will need the right skills, behaviours, non-verbal communication and body language to create a strong coaching presence.

Active listening. Are you distracted or are you focused completely on what the team is saying and is not saying? You need to hear their concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and is not possible. Are you attending to your team’s agenda or your own?

Powerful questioning. There are different types of questions in a coaching conversation that evoke discovery, insight or a commitment to action. Use questions to generate new perspectives such as: “How do you feel about using these presentation materials versus not using them?”

Direct communication. Useful skills would include reframing, the use of metaphors, constructively challenging your team and managing the conversation at crucial moments. Try to avoid the trap of giving advice, but if unavoidable, keep your perspective to one succinct sentence and say, “What worked for me may not work for you, so just take what makes sense and leave the rest.”

Creating awarenes. Using tools to integrate different sources of information can help your team gain awareness. I use tools including 360-degree feedforward to enable clients to focus on problem-solving so that they move forward towards their goals.

Designing actions. The coaching conversation needs to move your team towards taking action that will move them towards their goals. Use brainstorming techniques to help them develop options and then use filtering mechanisms so that they define actions they will be committed to. You could ask them: “What actions will you take as a result of our conversation?”

Planning and goal-setting. Designed actions must be crafted in goals that your team feels confident in attaining, so understanding the principles of planning, goal setting and time management techniques is important. You may also suggest tools and resources for learning to assist your team so long as they aren’t forced on them.

Managing progress and accountability. Now that your sales team has designed actions and set goals, members are tasked with the responsibility of sticking to the plan. They may stumble along the way, so you will need to support their self-discipline and maintain their accountability.

You can ask them questions like: “What accountability structure would work for you?” or “How will you hold yourself accountable?” Reassure them that by sticking to the plan, you are positive they are going to succeed.

As a result of coaching, your sales team will experience fresh perspectives on challenges and opportunities, enhanced thinking and decision-making skills, enhanced interpersonal effectiveness and increased confidence in their day-to-day selling activities.